My Patient’s Back Pain and Her Kidneys

Woman at Computer with Back Pain
October 1, 2013
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Wendy had been a patient for a few years when she came to see me about a backache that was troubling her. “It came on so quickly, just a couple days ago,” she explained. “I was hoping it would go away, but it hasn’t and now I’m worried.”

We did a blood panel, but even before the results were in, I suspected Wendy’s back pain might be related to her kidneys and dehydration. The first clue was that her skin was very dry and broken out, almost like an adolescent. “Are you drinking enough water?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Wendy answered. “I always have water bottle with me – always.”

I’ve heard that answer before from patients who are dehydrated. Apparently, some people take water bottles with them, but for one reason or another, don’t use them. So I talked to Wendy about dehydration, and its effect on the kidneys – which can cause back pain. Then I asked her to take some notes on her liquid intake. Specifically, I wanted to know what she drank during a typical day and how much of it was water, as opposed to coffee, tea, sodas, alcohol, and other beverages.

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When Wendy’s blood panel results came back, I called to tell her that her kidneys were clearly suffering and asked about her liquids. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but you were right – I drink far more coffee and soda than water. I take a water bottle wherever I go, but more often than not, I only take one or two sips a day.”

After a couple of weeks with water replacing sodas and coffee, Wendy’s back pain was gone, along with her dry skin. “You know what else has changed,” she said, when she checked in a few weeks later. “I have a home blood pressure monitor, because I’ve had problems with high blood pressure over the years. And all of a sudden my blood pressure is lower than usual. Do you think that has anything to do with all this?”

I assured Wendy that the reduction in her blood pressure was most likely due to drinking more water. Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages, as well as alcohol, work as diuretics, forcing liquid out of the body. So you may think you’re well hydrated, but all the liquid you’re taking in is lost as urine. When you drink fresh, filtered water, it helps thin the blood and your blood pressure is likely to improve. As I like to tell my patients, we tend to think of our organs as separate entities, but actually they’re all connected, which makes taking good care of your body even more important.

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  • Roxanne

    Thank you so much for this article. I know I’m dehydrated and have had kidney pain for a while now. I just hope it’s not too late!

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